Snake River fall Chinook salmon life history investigations: Annual report 2011 (April 2011 - March 2012)

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Executive Summary

Chapter One – This chapter was published in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society in 2012. We conducted a three-year radiotelemetry study in the lower Snake River to answer the questions: do fall Chinook salmon juveniles pass dams during winter when bypass systems and structures designed to prevent mortality are not operated; does downstream movement rate vary annually, seasonally, and from reservoir to reservoir; and, what are some of the factors that contribute to annual, seasonal, and spatial variation in downstream movement rate? Fall Chinook salmon juveniles moved downstream up to 169 km and fast enough (7.5 km/d) such that large percentages (up to 93%) of the fish passed one or more dams during winter. Mean downstream movement rate varied annually (9.2-11.3 km/d), increased from winter (7.5 km/d) to spring (16.4 km/d), and increased (6.9-16.8 km/d) as fish moved downstream from reservoir to reservoir. Fish condition factor at tagging explained some of the annual variation (P≤ 0.01) in downstream movement rate, whereas water particle velocity (P≤0.0001) and temperature (P≤0.0001) explained portions of the seasonal variation. An increase in migrational disposition as fish moved downstream helped explain the spatial variation (P=0.05-0.07). The potential cost of winter movement might be reduced survival due to turbine passage when the bypass systems and spillway passage structures are not operated. Efforts to understand and increase passage survival of winter migrants in large impoundments might help to rehabilitate some imperiled anadromous salmonid populations.

Chapter Two – Natural juvenile fall Chinook salmon in the Snake and Clearwater rivers exhibit two life history strategies. “Ocean-type” fish migrate out to the ocean in their first summer of life as subyearlings, but “reservoir-type” fish delay seaward migration during the summer, and some overwinter in reservoirs before continuing their migration the following spring as yearlings. Earlier emerging fish produced in the Snake River tend to adopt the ocean-type life history whereas many of the later emerging fish from the Clearwater River tend to adopt the reservoirtype life history. The underlying cause of the reservoir-type life history is poorly understood, but we believe there may be link to physiological development. We used traditional markers of the parr-smolt transformation (smoltification), including gill Na+/K+-ATPase activity and thyroid hormone levels, along with gene expression microarrays to assess the development of ocean-type juvenile fall Chinook salmon and then compared it to that of juvenile fall Chinook salmon from the Clearwater River. We showed that parr in the Snake River are physiologically distinct from actively-migrating smolts but smolts migrating early and late in the summer and fall are physiologically similar. Juvenile fall Chinook salmon collected from the Clearwater River were similar in size to early-migrating smolts in the Snake River but were most physiologically similar to Snake River parr. Genes differentially expressed between Snake River parr and smolts and between fish from the Clearwater River and smolts from the Snake River were involved in the cell cycle, steroid metabolism and other metabolic pathways, and DNA repair and packaging. Many of the genes differentially expressed in these comparisons had expression patterns that correlated with gill Na+/K+-ATPase activity, suggesting that they were related to smoltification and migration status.

Chapter Three – Natural subyearlings produced in the Clearwater River are exposed to cool (~10-12°C) temperatures when water is released from Dworshak Reservoir for summer flow augmentation. Total dissolved gas (TDG) levels range from 100-110% in the lower Clearwater iv River. When fish move into the Snake River, they encounter temperatures up to 24°C at the surface which have the potential to incur gas bubble disease (GBD) in fish as dissolved gases in their bodies expand under warmer temperatures. This may result in both direct and indirect mortality, but this situation has been little studied. We conducted laboratory experiments to examine subyearling mortality rates and incidence and severity of GBD in fish that were moved between waters that varied in TDG and temperature. Fish experienced significant mortality only at temperatures of 25°C, which increased with exposure time. However there was no significance difference in mortality between fish acclimated to 100% TDG and 110% TDG. Fish that died did show signs of GBD. Generally, signs of GBD such as bubbles in the lateral line and unpaired fins were higher in fish acclimated at 110% TDG than in fish acclimated at 100% TDG, but there were few trends related to exposure temperature. Field measurements of TDG showed that TDG ranged from about 100% to 122.5% at some locations. Generally, TDG fluctuated daily, up to 8% during August and early September, and was highest late in the afternoon and lowest in the early morning. Laboratory results and field monitoring demonstrated that emigrating juvenile salmon can potentially be at risk from elevated temperatures, TDG, and GBD albeit to an unknown extent, which may increase their vulnerability to predation.

Chapter Four – We conducted monthly beam trawling in Lower Granite and Little Goose reservoirs to describe the seasonal abundance of benthic epifauna that are potentially important as prey to juvenile fall Chinook salmon. The predominant taxa collected were Siberian prawns, the opossum shrimp Neomysis mercedis, and the amphipod Corophium sp. Prawns were relatively abundant at shallow sites in both reservoirs in June, but were more abundant at deep sites in lower and middle reservoir reaches in autumn. Prawn densities were commonly <0.2/m2. Prawn length-frequency data indicated that there were at least two size classes. Juvenile prawns present in shallow water more often than adult prawns, which were generally only found in deep water by autumn. Ovigerous prawns had an average of 171 eggs, which represented about 11.5% of their body weight. Limited diet analyses suggested that prawns consumed Corophium, Neomysis, and aquatic insects. Neomysis dominated all catches both in terms of abundance and biomass, and they were more abundant in Lower Granite compared to Little Goose reservoir. Neomysis were more abundant at shallow sites than at deep sites. Corophium were present in our collections but were never abundant, probably because our trawl was not effective at capturing them. The caloric content of prawns (4,782 Kcal), Neomysis (4,962 Kcal), and Corophium (4,926 Kcal) indicates that these prey would be energetically profitable for juvenile salmon. Subyearling fall Chinook salmon prey heavily on Neomysis and Corophium at times, but the importance of prawns as prey is uncertain.

Study Area

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Downstream movement of fall Chinook salmon juveniles in the lower Snake River reservoirs during winter and early spring

Chapter 2: Gene expression and physiological development of natural subyearling fall Chinook salmon in the Snake and Clearwater rivers

Chapter 3: Mortality and severity of gas bubble disease of juvenile fall Chinook salmon exposed to supersaturated gas concentrations and sudden changes in temperature

Chapter 4: Distribution and abundance of potential invertebrate prey for juvenile fall Chinook salmon in the Snake River


Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Title Snake River fall Chinook salmon life history investigations: Annual report 2011 (April 2011 - March 2012)
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Bonneville Power Administration
Contributing office(s) Western Fisheries Research Center
Description 134 p.
Country United States
State Oregon, Washington
Other Geospatial Lower Snake River
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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